Food Network Star Recap: Downward Dip

Food Network Star Recap“It’s time to go to a commercial break. Please come right back and hang out with us here at Food Network 4th of July Live.”

As far as throws to ad breaks go, that one doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy, does it? And yet it was enough to save Russell’s underperforming self — and result in the ouster of an early favorite — on the latest episode of Food Network Star.

This week’s big challenge found the final eight contestants manning various stations for a live, 45-minute telecast focused on a Fourth of July theme. You knew the moment that Giada De Laurentiis literally squealed with glee over Russell’s “big moment,” that he’d be safe — despite his muttering like a madman through most of his live cooking segment, and serving up a potato salad that Bobby described as little more than a cold mash. (Ewww.) And yet while I can’t see Russell prevailing — his whole “macho man” persona plays like amped-for-TV shtick rather than a genuine way of being — I couldn’t really argue with the judges’ decision to send Viet to the guillotine.

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Oh, Viet, the guy who beat Bobby Flay in an episode of Iron Chef, and yet — when asked by a call-in guest for his favorite trio of dips — looked down and stammered like a shy second-grader who’s just been asked to spell onomatopoeia. As Giada noted, just spit out “Salsa, guac and hummus” and be done with it! In his defense, though, Viet’s confidence had already been rattled during the mentor challenge demo, when the pan of peppers for his “sausage and pepper” sandwich disappeared — a much harder staged snafu than, say, Stacey’s lost whisk or Chris’ spilled olive oil. (Nikki grappling with a fire alarm, though, was far and away the most brutal.) And I did kind of like the daring theater of Viet burning a cedar plank right there in the studio.

If there’d been a Bottom 3 this week, I’d argue Rodney should’ve rounded it out. Dude gave not even a whiff of expertise while whipping up a meringue treat or fielding a viewer question about a no-bake dessert. And when Alton Brown yelps “good grief” while tasting your food, are you really a good candidate for your own food-centric series?

Clearly, the runaway winner of the July 4th live challenge was Stacey, who adroitly juggled a hot grill, whipped up innovative sauces and interviewed famed butchers Lindy & Grundy. My favorite touch was her request that the ladies tell her “the fancy name” for Brick chicken — a way to make things fun without dumbing down the overall presentation. The returning Bob Tuschman — I miss him and I miss Susie; there, I said it! — noted perfect can sometimes be boring, but come on, there’s not much time in a 60-second segment to dazzle with one’s own personal POV or anecdotes.

My second fave this week was probably Damaris, who got pinged for not taking her task seriously enough. I read her loopy performance a different way, though, considering she was manning the cocktail station — a perfect arena for a self-described personality that’s “teetering on the line of acceptable” when she’s sober. I dunno, there’s just something fun and self-effacing about the southern cooking instructor, who more often than not manages to make tasty food, too.

So at the midway point in the competition, I’d rank the Top 7 thusly.

7. Russell
6. Rodney
5. Nikki
4. Chris
3. Chad
2. Damaris
1. Stacey

How would you rank the remaining finalists? What did you think of this week’s episode? Did Viet deserve to go, or should it have been someone else? Sound off below!